Vulnerability is one of the most powerful ways of being I’ve ever witnessed before in my life. For me, growing up I learned at a very young age that showing your emotions was a sign of weakness. I taught myself to never allow myself to feel anything so much that I got choked up in public, or even when i was alone. Before I realized the power of vulnerability I can honestly say I had no memory of the last time I cried, or the last time I sought comfort in the arms of a loved one. I was far to “strong” to experience emotions that make me cry, or tug at my heart.
Not long ago I was attending some transformational and leadership workshops when I saw the most amazing and courageous display of vulnerability I had ever witnessed in my life. The effects of which have left a permanent impact on me. It completely and utterly destroyed my worldview that vulnerability was a weakness.
During the workshop a fellow participant stood up during group discussion time and shared some very intimate and private aspects of his childhood and how his life had been effected as a result. The man was in his late 50’s early 60’s and I could tell that, like me, he had never allowed himself to be this vulnerable in front of anyone in his entire life until this moment. As he told his story, and felt the safe environment lacking in judgment, he began to give himself permission to let go of all the built up negative energy, resentment and anger that had been driving the results in his life for so long. He began to get choked up, and that’s when everyone in the room felt something. Like a flood gate that had just been opened up, the man burst into tears as he continued to courageously tell his story. I was amazed! I was amazed not so much at the fact that a grown man, that I had come to respect and hold in a high regard, was crying; but more at the effect his vulnerability had on everyone else in the room. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room…except for mine. I still had not given myself the same permission to be vulnerable. I definitely felt the energy of complete and total acceptance in the room though. When this man was finished clearing, he handed the microphone over and sat down. One by one, people began to share their stories and open up and clear the negative emotions that had so dominated their lives for far to long. It was at this moment I first realized the power of vulnerability. One man’s courage granted permission to everyone else in his presence to be courageous as well. He created a space of vulnerability and power, and others joined him in what was probably the most powerful discussion of the entire weekend.
Later that weekend, it was my turn. To this day I still couldn’t tell you what my story was, or what I choose to share with the group. Maybe it’s not really important. Whatever it was, it was just the catalyst that allowed me to open up and be truly authentic. I felt the tears swelling and the lump in my throat. I noticed my immediate reflex to surpress the emotions and even wanted to stop talking and just sit down; but I kept telling my story. Soon the tears were flowing, still somewhat held back but I felt a distinctive release. It felt good.
For the rest of the workshop and several times in other workshops I witnesses the power of vulnerability to completely shift the energy and consciousness of everyone in the room. Little did I know I would have another oppertunity to practice and experience the power of vulnerability. I was taking two courses at the same time. I was taking a trust law course and a leadership development course. While on a weekend retreat with my law group one of my coaches from my leadership team was there and approached a few of us that were taking both courses with a new challenge. Our leadership team had chosen to set a goal to raise funds for another project we were involved in, while we were away on our retreat and without any of our input. When my coach approached us asking us if we would commit to raising $250 that weekend, I was immediately on board but really struggling with how we were going to do this. We were in Chicago at the time in the middle of a blizzard. Who were we going to ask for donations? Where would we go to solicit funds? Other members on my team that where there with me were annoyed and frustrated that our leadership team would make such a commitment without our input. We all chose to accept the challenge anyway, even with all the mixed emotions and doubts. Our first attempt was to make a pitch to our law group. I was up. I stood up and began to explain the fund raising project and where the funds were going. We were raising funds for a leadership development program for youth. As I spoke into the tremendous effect the work had on me personally and how we really wanted to create the same experience for younger kids, I felt the tears come out of no where. I realized how emotionally involved and attached to this work I had become. I remembered all the breakthroughs I had experienced and how empowered I felt. I remembered all of my accomplishments as a direct result of this work. I couldn’t even explain how powerful the work was for me personally without getting choked up. So in my authentic self, I let it flow. Everything I was feeling inside came out. We not only reached our goal of $250 but we raised over $2000 in 20 minutes. Everyone on my leadership team was blown away at what we created. The feelings of resentment and negativity and complaining were all gone. We were all in a state of pure amazement. Vulnerability was proving to be an extremely powerful way of being that I have been ignoring my entire life.
I was reminded of the power of vulnerability again this week when we rented the cartoon “Inside Out” for our daughter. In the movie the main character was Joy. She was the happy emotion that ran the controls in a little girls brain. Anger, Disgust, fear and sadness were other characters that took the controls when the situation was right. In the movie, Joy wanted the girl to always be happy and for all the core memories to be pleasant happy ones. Soon the other emotions started to feel ignored. Sadness in particular. Sadness couldn’t resist the urge to touch the core memories and taint them with sadness. Now every time the girl recalled that memory, it was attached to an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Now I’ll try my best not to spoil the film for you here, but at the end of the movie, Joy finally realizes that every emotion has their place. Even sadness. When sadness took the controls the girl was completely vulnerable and effecting her environment and people around her in a tremendous way. The turning point for Joy’s realization was in the results sadness had. By accepting sadness and letting it flow authentically, the girls environment shifted and she created possibilities and mended relationships, which led to far more happiness.
Let’s be clear here, vulnerability and sadness are two completely different emotions, but often times they can show up together. One does not always have to experience sadness to be vulnerable. Often times vulnerability comes up with joy and happiness as well. But whenever it comes up, let it out!
We are emotional beings. That’s what makes us human. To deny even a single emotion is to deny that aspect of ourselves and it limits possibilities. The trick is to not allow your emotions to run wild. Like in the movie, emotions have no rational or logic. They just feel. There is nothing wrong with feeling a certian way. If you feel angry, sad, lonely, afraid or happy, let it in. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. Then let it go. I’m not saying that emotions should drive your actions. I’m simply saying that experience itself is worth taking note of, and acknowledging. Trust that the emotions are coming up for you for a reason. Use them to learn what it is that you get to let go of, or what you want more of. They each play a very important role. None of them should be ignored or overlooked, especially not vulnerability.
“I am an AWESOME, conscious, aware, kind, loving, being!” -Matt Wolfe